Thursday, January 30, 2014

small group, big impact

I've been spending a decent amount of my free time lately re-reading through some of my older posts. I think it is interesting to look back at the words that were on my heart a few years ago and to see how God has been working in my life to deepen the understanding and knowledge of His grace. I was sharing a little of my testimony the other evening, and as I was talking, it was the first time in a while that I had stopped to look back over my personal "great awakening". My journey into the Word of God, defining what I believe, and why I believe it started around 10 years ago, and through the ups and downs of life in those years, I can say with great confidence that I am most definitely not the same man now that I was then. Even more so, it threw back into light that it has really been the last 4 years of my life that the foundational bedrock of my beliefs has been solidified and that God has been able to build upon His foundation in my life. As I come to realize the timeline that is apparent in this change, it is impossible for me to miss one important fact:

It was just over 4 years ago that I finished my first nursing degree and was able to finally stop working every weekend, and as such, I was able to plug into a small group community in our church. This small group of men, and the investment that they have made into my growth as a man, aiding me in responding to the call of God in my life, calling me to more diligently seek after His glory, have been immeasurably valuable in my life. I never knew that there was any importance in connecting with my peers for the support, accountability, love, reproof, and edification that comes from small-group community. Our church offers many such groups, and several that exist for married couples, but there is also a class just for men, and one just for women. I love the flexibility in this, allowing each married couple to determine what they need most for their individual growth as well as their marriages. For us, the ability to commune with same-sex only peers has been incredible.

If you aren't involved in this kind of group, or any kind of small-group community, do yourself a favor, seek one out! If you need a place to seek, come check us out at FBC Nixa. Join the community, invest into the community, and watch the grace abound!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

emotional bulimia

I just spent a little bit of time looking at my mom's Facebook page... apparently I felt the need to punch my own heart. I suppose there is no real harm in the activity itself, it allows me to break myself down emotionally and release alot of feeling. I am not one who enjoys crying, or feeling things on a deep level, and so, I sometimes struggle with building up emotions. Not even just bad ones, even some good ones. I have improved, through much work and effort, in putting my emotions more on the surface. My inability to do so began causing any number of problems, usually leading into general grumpiness, shortness, and sometimes hostility towards my wife. Whereas the buildup in often of a multitude of emotions from all across the spectrum, once you mix them all up and fence them in... they always come back out as anger.

The worry now is whether or not I am entering into what I'll call emotional bulimia. I stuff the emotions in, maybe not like I used to, but still more than I should. And then when I start to notice myself getting easily provoked, angry, grumpy, whatever, I force myself into an emotional release... purging myself of this pent-up emotional gunk. I wish I could be someone who more easily flowed through their feelings, its just not how I am best wired. Its clearly something that requires more time, and something that I have probably be neglecting lately.

Throughout His life on this earth, we see evidence of Jesus experiencing the full spectrum of human emotion. And knowing that Christ lived without sin, we can deduce easily that there is no sin found in experiencing, and expressing emotions in a proper way. The biggest take-away I see from a quick review of being Christ-like in dealing with these issues is to deal with an emotion as it reveals itself. Never does it appear that Jesus is repressing a response to whatever He may have been feeling. And by never repressing, He never overreacted. His emotions were always able to be dealt with at face value, never complicated by feelings He had yet to relinquish. Jesus didn't give in to this cycle of emotional bulimia. He simply trusted in the sovereign grace of His Father for all things, thus allowing Him to absorb whatever emotion, discern the appropriate response, and then to act upon that response at the proper time. Its an easy process to write down... yet so hard to put into practice.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

for the love of God

I have spent a fair amount of time, and used quite a bit of online space, to speak to the parallels between the love God has for us and the love we have for our kids. Its a topic that is rich in fundamental, convicting truths that have allowed me to understand (a little better) the way that God loves me. But underscoring any and all of these thoughts along the way has been this nagging that I was missing (or worse, misinterpreting) something very important about God's love for His children. I want to take a few moments this morning to hash this out with some thoughts I have had floating in my head for a long while...

The love I have for my kids is a deeply rooted love. These kids are not simply a couple of awesome individuals whom I get to cherish, teach, learn from, and so on... we are connected in a much deeper way than that. The love that a parent has for their child is chemical, its visceral. There is a deep connection of knowing these little people because they are the fleshed out result of the romanticized thoughts of two people becoming one in the scope of Biblical marriage. For the man, this love calls onto the carpet a deep longing of protection and leading, loving your kids with all that we have. We see the best parts of ourselves intermingled with the best parts of their mother, and we know that if we properly care for this child, that they posses incredible potential. For the mother, it goes one step beyond into the truly visceral knowledge of the child. They have truly shared their flesh, their bodies coexisted in a way that its nearly incomprehensible. The mother has a natural desire that mimics the father's, but it goes well beyond this. This child is a physical part of them.
This beautiful realization of the love of our children depicts the great love God has for us... but does so incompletely. God does feel each of these points, I think, with each of us being made in His image. As His beloved creation, God demonstrates great love for us that do seem to be rooted in the depiction of love. I just don't think that it tells us the whole story. The issue with this type of love... its too automatic. It breaks too easily. If you don't think that't true, take a look around at the neglected, abused, aborted, and unloved children. If we rely on this kind of love alone from our God... we are opening ourselves up to missing out on the fullness of His love, grace, and mercy.

I have wrestled with trying to understand this better, and I have been readily redirected to remembering that God has also adopted us into His family. We are not fully born into the family of God. Though we are created to be in His family, we choose to live in rebellion of our Father and to live outside of the full benefits of this family. So, to reconcile us, God becomes our adoptive father. It is this adoptive love that makes the difference. An adoptive love fits much more completely into the idea of Agape love as a choice of the will to act to the benefit of another regardless of outside factors. I began to think that the love of an adoptive parent was the more true understanding of God's love.
The adoptive parent is unburdened by the chemical, flesh-bound love of a child that is so often failing in our world. It is a love that is based upon the choice to love a child that someone else was unwilling (or unable) to love. Their love is a pure choice of their will to act to the benefit of this child, regardless of who this child is or was. They have pursued this child, waited for this child, prayed for this child, and now receive this child with open arms into an intentional relationship. Its a great picture of a God who pursues the downtrodden, rejected, and broken... the intercession and prayer for those who are heavy-laden... and the calling home of these to a place of peace and rest.
The problem here is that we are speaking only to the pretty side of adoption. We see just as much (and sometimes more) pain, abuse, neglect, and harm done to a child in an adoptive home. The adoptive love is quickly and easily replaced by these other feelings, and it still falls short in helping us to find deeper understanding of God's love.

So, the natural love of a parent/child relationship falls short on its own merits in encompassing God's love... yet so does the adoptive love. Both are flawed views. But, here's the thing I have learned to appreciate most about God over the last couple of years... God is not like me.

In an exercise in gaining insight into God through the study of "The Saving Life of Christ" last year, we examined the attributes of God. The list consisted of things like: love, hate, grace, wrath, just, forgiving, etc. We all recognize that these are aspects of God that we see displayed throughout the Bible, and knowing that God does not contradict Himself, we must accept that He is all of these things. The problem we face is having to come to understand that it is not that God lives within a balance of these things on a spectrum, the way we often think of it. We often think that God just exists in a proper balance between love/hate, wrath/grace, justice/forgiveness... and that He then moves Himself to one end or the other of the spectrum based on the circumstances. We think this, because that often how we exist... we are loving, except when we become hateful, we are gracious, until you earn our wrath. But remember, God is not like you. He exists in the totality of each of these... He exists fully saturated with each, and perfectly so. His love is only perfect because His wrath is as well, grace is only fully gracious in concert with the perfection of His wrath... so on and so forth. So, in light of this, we must also be willing to conclude that God fully loves as not only a natural parent loves the children born of His own flesh, but also as an adoptive father making a willful choice to act to the ultimate benefit of the child He has chosen.

God's love is not simply on a spectrum between the two, it is the fullness of both. You have been created, in His image, place above all other created things, set apart to be His workmanship. He is connected to you viscerally, as a parent is to a child. But, we have traded that birthright, chosen to live outside of that family. So, He pursues us as an adoptive father. Willfully bringing us back into His family, lavishing us with a love that is beyond the chemical automaticity. He is not balancing the two, but expressing the two in the full perfection of God through Christ.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sunday (and Monday) morning conviction- Hebrews 13:17

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
Hebrews 13:17

I love it when God speaks clearly. Yesterday morning, I listened to a sermon preached from the pulpit of FBC Nixa, and delivered by Phil Shuford. He exhorted our congregation in the proper way to receive a pastor, helping us to be prepared for the arrival of our new Lead Pastor. This morning,
I listened to another sermon, this one being preached from the pulpit of FBC Buffalo, and delivered by Tim Haupt. It was a conclusive sermon rounding out the marks of a holy church. It was the final sermon in the 5 year tenure for Tim at Buffalo, as he has been called to be the new Lead Pastor of FBC Nixa. Each of these sermons focused some attention on this valuable verse from Hebrews.

It wasn't like I had never heard this verse before... but, as it was unpacked by each of these men these last couple of days, I was landed with a refreshed burden...

I knew, in all of our searching for a pastor, that we were searching for the man that God had prepared and called to be our shepherd. What I had not spent nearly as much time thinking about was that this man (assuming he would accept the call) would be taking upon himself the responsibility of watching over the souls of our church. I can not even begin to imagine the weight that sits upon a pastor, coming to a new church, and accepting the call to willing take responsibility to give an account for these people. He doesn't know us, he only knows that this is his calling. The shear obedience and love required to willingly shoulder this is astonishing to me. I know myself, and I wouldn't wish the account of my soul upon anyone... let alone the souls of my fellow members.

A couple of thoughts from this... First, a huge thank you to each of the pastors who have willingly shouldered the responsibility to look after the souls of your people. The calling on your life is deeper and more complex than most people will ever appreciate. Second, I need to ensure that I am placing all that I am in the grace of Christ. I need to be fully surrendered to His callings on my own life. Tim has accepted the call to watch over my soul, he deserves my submission to Christ in my life... not because of anything he has done, but because he has submitted to the calling of Christ in his own life as well.

I hope that each of us at FBC Nixa are wiling to fully surrender to the call of Christ, submitting to each of our callings into the work of Christ to advance His kingdom in our community and beyond. I hope we will take seriously the challenge of brother Phil, presented through these words from Hebrews. I am reminded of the last message that he brought to us, we cannot rest on the service we have done in the past, and assume we have done all we have been called to do... we must continue to do the work of ministry to which we are called.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

pastor search: heading into a vote...

Sitting in church this morning, the wind blowing the snow at near-blizzard capacity, and listening to a man boldly, with the full authority of his calling, proclaiming a message of perseverance, integrity, and power, I was humbled and content in looking back over the past 8-9 months.

I do not know, as I sit here on my couch this snowy afternoon, what will happen in just a couple hours from now. Our church will come back together, and soon thereafter a vote will be held, and the decision of our church will be made. I want, with all that I am, to believe that the conviction I have felt in my heart over the past several months is true, that the man who was presented in front of our church today is the man that God has called and set apart to be the pastor of our church. I believe it with every fiber of my being that this man and our church have been uniquely fitted together at this time and in this place to join together and further the glory of Christ and advance His kingdom among our community. And, as I sat this morning to hear this man preach once again, I was taken back to the many resumes we read, the many sermons we listened to, and the several people along the way who have been praying for this day... it was a journey that was fully and completely dependent on the sovereign grace and guidance of God. There were no accidents along the way, only this intentional guidance of a God who loves His people.

I believe it was by this same intentionality that this man was in our church, preaching this morning. Even if, after all of this, we learn that he is not the man that God has called to our church, it was not by accident that he was here this weekend, or that he preached the Word this morning. And if he is the man that God has called, then this morning served as an amazing introduction into an exciting new time in the life of God's church at First Baptist Nixa.

I believe I know what the vote tonight will bring, and I feel strongly that the right decision will be made and that discernment and direction were made clear by each of those who sought God out in prayer... at the same time, I want to find contentment and joy in the outcome of tonight's vote... and I want to be confident that those fruits are in no way contingent upon the outcome. I want them to be rooted in Christ alone. It is Christ whom I serve, and in Him alone do I anchor my peace and my joy.